Joy Unspeakable, Pain Unfathomable

Have you ever seen Father of the Bride 2? There’s a scene where a middle aged couple find out they are expecting another baby (at the same time as their eldest daughter announces they are going to be grandparents!), and both Mom and Dad have varied feelings regarding the matter.  As Steve Martin looks out one side of the car window, he sees children throwing tantrums, crying, running off, and parents yelling at their kids.  On the other side of the car, Diane Keaton  sees a sunshiney day, filled with daughters kissing their daddy’s cheeks, children running into their parent’s arms laughing, and a contented couple strolling their smiling baby down the street. Yes, parenting includes all of the above, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But many times parenthood is painted in glamorized pictures and we only think of the good. The stars pose for People magazine with angelic children and no post-partum belly whatsoever. Our churches tell us children are a blessing and family is sacred.  Babies are sweet and darling and cuddleable. Becoming a parent is something most people dream of their whole lives.  Our culture is so obsessed with  babies and children that we will do almost anything to get them.  Single women become artificially inseminated just so they can know what it is to carry a child and look into a miniature face that resembles their own.

But here’s something you don’t hear so often: Loving your own children does not actually come naturally.  At least, not Christ’s love. Oh, sure a parent can love their children for selfish reasons–when they are behaving, making them laugh, giving them a tax credit, and making them look good to their friends.

The things you don’t hear as often about are the throwing up for nine months straight. And then you go two weeks overdue and can hardly move, in constant pain, feel itchy, and haven’t slept in weeks.  When the baby finally makes his entrance, labor is more horrifying than anything you ever imagined, and the two weeks following birth are filled with intense physical pain that no one ever told you about. Nursing does not come naturally, the baby won’t latch, and when he finally does, the pain  causes you to practice your lamaaze all over again.

You cry all the time and have panic attacks about nothing at all.  You’re starving because you’re nursing, but nauseated from anxiety and post-partum depression. If you ever finally do sit down to eat, it’s at the moment that the fork is almost to your mouth that the baby wakes up and wails for food of his own.  You won’t eat a hot meal in months.

As the baby grows, you discover new difficulties in having to get a babysitter every time you go out, or having to load up the baby and all his gear just to get get a gallon of milk. And if you do bring him to the store with you, you have to find time between eating, napping, changing his diapers, and being just plain fussy to do it.  Five minutes of adult conversation will seem like heaven on earth.

Is it any wonder that moms give up on nursing in the first couple of weeks? Why is it suprising that, no matter how much Mama longed for Baby, it has crossed her mind that she wishes she could just give him back, and oh what guilt that brings! As much as she always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, after a couple of months, all she wants to do is go back to work. Please, let someone else take care of the baby and all the mundane, unceasing household tasks! It’s exhausting, and for all your soothing and cooking and scrubbing, if you tell the world you are a stay-at-home mom, they look at you like you have grown a second head and ask, “What do you do all day?!”

I used to not understand when people complained about their children, said they were “done” emphatically with having kids, or couldn’t wait to return to their jobs.  I was longing and aching to hold a baby of my own! And I wanted as many as the Lord would bless us with.

But on the days that Baby has no smiles and only tears, when you’re up in the night for the 5th time and your’e baffled as to what is wrong, and you say, “Fine, if you’re going to cry, so am I!” and dissolve into a puddle of tears, children do not seem like a blessing at all.

And that, my friends, is precisely when they are the biggest blessing. Our children are blessing us by becoming a great aid in our sanctification. Growing more like Christ involves a healthy dose of self sacrifice.  After all, He gave up his very life for us! But he didn’t do it grudgingly! It was “for the joy that was set before Him” the he suffered death on the cross.  When we give up our own will to meet our children’s needs, Christ is glorified, and He is making us more like Himself.  Painful in the moment? Yes. But its rewards are eternal.  Parenting is an opportunity to learn on a very personal level the love Christ has for us.  True love will sacrifice and think of others first.

And, oh, the blessings that we reap in obeying Christ in this! Instead of wallowing in self-pity because you missed your favorite show to calm a teething baby, you can rejoice at the opportunity to hold and care for your son in his suffering.  God the Father could not do that for His beloved Son when He suffered God’s wrath on our behalf!  But because Christ suffered, we can hold our children.  We deserve Hell for our sin, but that price has been paid in full.

When I realize how much of a blessing is brought to us through sacrifice and becomiong like Christ, I cannot fathom the loneliness and emtpiness that must fill the parent who does not know Christ and His higher purpose.  It makes sense that they have “his and hers” then breathe a sigh of relief that they are done.  Their children become their idols because God is not filling that void in their heart, and they spend many a bleak hour asking, “Is this all there is?” when their children break their hearts and leave them.

Parenting comes with extraordinary joys, and we know all about those. The first smiles, first cooes, first steps, first words, hearing “Mama” come out of your baby’s mouth, seeing them learn to read and write and making your heart nearly explode with love for them.  But when we are scanning that sweet onesie or box of pacifiers for our registry, we can’t even begin to imagine the unfathomable pain that comes with it, and that can catch us off guard. It helps if we realize that it is all part of the sanctification process, though, and God will do whatever it takes to make us more like Christ. He will give us the grace to get through the harder days and fill us with joy on the sweeter ones!


One response to this post.

  1. Thank you. God is at work in you, Ashley Nicole, and using you to remind us of His truth.

    Nothing has been more sanctifying to me than parenting. Wow, does God use it to help us die to ourselves and live for Him alone.

    Keep sharing truth. It is so good to hear it!


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